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Affordable equipment for video conferencing

Bryan Smith
Sep 8, 2020 8:44:00 PM

You’ve never done web conferencing before, but suddenly you have to be able to do it frequently and do it well from your home in order to keep your job, or continue certain functions that you do with others. It feels kind of daunting because you’re not familiar with all the tech and moving parts involved to do remotely based video conferencing from your house. Does this sound familiar? No worries, this blog post will help you to get started with any web conferencing equipment.

While there are a lot of ways to approach this setup, there are only really a few moving parts, and it’s easy to get started!

The bare minimum video conferencing equipment

In order to join a web conference with live audio and video, you do have to have some kind of microphone, some type of camera, and a video conferencing solution.

Nearly every smartphone has these hardware features built in. You can usually just use your phone, if you absolutely have to. In fact your phone probably does have a better than decent front camera and microphone. It can help to have a phone stand, a gorilla pod, or at least something to lean your phone on, so you don’t have to hold it for the duration of the meeting, which will give the other viewers a display of you that can be pretty shaky.

Video conferencing equipmentAll you need to get started is basically a smartphone.

Most software solutions for video conferencing keep mobile users in mind, and in some cases there will be an app that you can download and use to join your friends or colleagues. If you’re not willing to download another app on your phone, sometimes the service your friends are using has an in-browser option.

While this may be adequate for joining in on a meeting and participating, it is admittedly not the best setup for hosting web meetings, or using these things frequently – which is what most people are doing these days.

It can also be difficult to attend video conferences with many attendees and a room system, since your display on a phone is so small.

The next step up

Laptops typically come with this hardware built-in, too, and are generally considered a step up from smartphones. However, using built-in laptop hardware comes with its problems, too.

For one, while they typically do have nice wide-angle webcams built into them, the cameras on a modern smartphone will usually outperform the web camera built into a laptop. Both are apt to do HD video streaming, though.

Laptops are notorious for their built-in microphones having trouble sounding good. This is just a limitation of having to hide a microphone somewhere within a laptop’s frame, and when you type it’s usually really loud for the people on the other end.

But what makes laptops better than smartphones is that they have a larger display so you can view the other participants better, and they typically have more than enough computing power to handle the video stream, so it’s easier to attend large conference rooms.

From here it gets mostly into cameras, lighting, and microphones.

Getting fairly serious with it

You’ll know that you should consider these next steps if you’re thinking about having a designated area of your house to do web conferences in, or if you know you’re going to be hosting your own webinar.

You don’t have to over-do it, though! Professional setups can be very costly – but there are ways of getting a setup as good or nearly as good as a professional setup on a budget.

Get a stand-alone microphone

Specifically, look or ask for a diaphragm microphone. Diaphragm microphones are much more sensitive to sound than in-line microphones, and produce higher quality audio than any built-in device that phones or laptops will have. You can pick up plug-and-play USB microphones for under $50, or more advanced ones for around $100.

Have dedicated lighting

The overhead lights in your room typically cast shadows. You can use regular house lamps to get fairly even consistent lighting, too. But one way to get lighting that’s almost as good as professional lighting is to go to the hardware store and look for on-site job lighting.

These are lighting fixtures that look like little metal bowls with light bulbs in them. They clip on to nearly anything, and are really cheap. You can tape wax paper in front of them and this gives you warm, diffused, even light wherever you want it.

Video cameras

Video cameras are kind of their own topic within a topic because they do tend to get fairly technical once you get into hd video and audio.

Most of them though, offer HD video streaming once they’re connected to your computer as a video source. You will have to have a stand or tripod for these kinds of cameras, though.

You can also go with a dedicated web camera, but web cameras are notoriously overpriced for what they are. Most people can’t really spot too much difference between built-in solutions and webcams. The only time people typically buy webcams is if they’re using them with their desktop, because desktop computers don’t have built-in camera solutions.

If you have a stand-alone video camera that can connect to your desktop, you usually get more bang for buck by using that as your webcam. They tend to be higher quality than just about any dedicated webcam, and you’ll have other uses for a digital camera than just using it for the web.

The recommended setup while keeping your budget in check

The maximum results for minimal effort for video conferencing is to have:

  • a laptop with a 720p camera
  • a dedicated microphone for great audio
  • and some house lamps with wax paper over them or some kind of softboxes

If you go for that minimal setup, your laptop is both your camera and your stand, you avoid all the problems with the built-in microphones that laptops use, and you’ll have really good consistent lighting if you have a special spot to attend video conferences in.

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